SAP Support Packages and Maintenance Plans: If it works, why change it?

It’s the time of year for us to be looking at our maintenance plans for all of our NetWeaver Managed Service customers, to plan in all of the support packages and other maintenance activities for their SAP systems.

Why Should We Apply Support Packages?

Customers often wonder why they should patch their SAP software at all – if it works, why change it?

Patching can be expensive.  Resources from your SAP team are required to apply the support packages, which could take them away from project work or other more valuable activities.  Often even more challenging is getting resources from the wider business for testing, as they have their own jobs to do.

The risk of making changes is a valid concern as most patching projects will introduce some new issues.  However, the risk of not patching adds significant cost to future Upgrades and Enhancement Packages as, in our experience, many more problems are discovered in these projects when systems are not under a regular patching regime.

Technical faults with the SAP systems are not the biggest causes of problems to projects on systems that are not patched regularly.  If the organisation does not apply support packages periodically, nobody in that organisation has experience of completing the tasks required in such a project. 

If not used regularly, test scripts may be out of date and the departments who use SAP may be completely unable to supply resources or skills to use them.  The SAP systems may have accumulated problems and unstable processes which have gone undetected for years until they all rear their heads in an unrelated project.

The Solution: A business-as-usual process

We promote the concept of support package application as a business-as-usual process for our customers.  This means that everyone in the organisation and the SAP systems themselves are at a point where patching is a routine part of the day job, and very comfortable and straightforward.  Regular patching is the only way to get your organisation to this point.

The advantages of having a business-as-usual process stretch beyond simply helping patching run smoothly.  Most larger SAP projects, such as Upgrades, have similar steps to a patching project.  If your organisation can deliver support package application every year, then when you come to upgrade or implement new functionality, both you and your SAP systems are well equipped for the project.

We make extra effort for customers who have a new SAP implementation, or who have an old one that they don’t currently patch regularly, to help with the business change management around the first patching project.  By making it an objective of each patching project to develop a business-as-usual patching process , we usually get to this point after only a few iterations and it leads to far smoother projects in the long term.

Maintenance calendars

As our team provides technical support for a large number of customer SAP systems under our NetWeaver Managed Service, our internal demo landscape and Absoft’s own infrastructure, it’s vital to us to plan out required patching activities across the year to ensure efficient use of our resources.

Beyond our resource planning, this calendar actually forms a far more useful purpose to the wider businesses, and we recommend any customer has one.  By planning your patching out well in advance, you can ensure resources from all teams are prepared and that you have the patching delivered in time to meet requirements such as UK HR Legal Compliance or browser support.

We make our plans based on a holistic view of how it fits into operating system patching, database patching, the release dates of support package stacks from SAP, and the other projects that the customer is running.  This step is vital in ensuring the desire to make patching business-as-usual is feasible as it lets the entire business plan for it.

Conclusion

SAP patching doesn’t have to create a major headache for your business operations.  The more you do it, the easier it gets – both for your organisation and technically.  It gives you a lot more than just keeping your systems up to date; you guarantee effectiveness of your testing, your project methodology, and the experience of your entire organisation to maintain your SAP systems. 

Use a calendar for high level planning well in advance, patch regularly so everyone across the wider business is comfortable and skilled with their role in the project, and keep the move towards business-as-usual as a clear objective to every patching project, and it can run as smoothly as any other business process. 

by Robert MacDonald, SAP Consultant